Office Hours: Ad agency goes permanently remote
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The way we work is rapidly evolving. In a matter of months, the pandemic has forever changed how we communicate, where we conduct business, the technology we use and how we juggle home and work life. There’s also been a much-needed spotlight thrown on the makeup of the workforce and the efforts being done to make the ad world a more-inclusive place. Every Thursday, Ad Age will tackle a different issue regarding the way these changes are impacting our professional lives—from mental health and wellness to creating new jobs, re-imaging the leadership ranks and what the new office space will look like.
San Francisco-based creative agency Traction is closing down its office and shifting to working remotely permanently, says co-founder and CEO Adam Kleinberg. The company broke its lease last week because “we decided we just don’t need it,” Kleinberg says. In the wake of working from home amid the the coronavirus pandemic, Kleinberg found “we didn’t miss a beat.” Even once the country reopens, Kleinberg doesn’t foresee a need to host in-person meetings with staffers. “We have adopted a lot of behaviors that have eliminated the need for face-to-face,” he says. One such tool is Miro, a virtual whiteboard that allows Traction staff to collaborate and brainstorm in real time.
This is yet another example of how COVID-19 is poised to reshape how the ad world conducts business. For more-seasoned employees who have already learned the ins-and-outs of office life, the change of pace may be welcomed. Going remote could open up opportunities for new moms, for example, who in the past had to take extended maternity leave or choose between focusing on their child or continuing to work. “The new model supports them in a much deeper way,” Kleinberg says.
But for those new to the workforce or at an early point in their careers, remote working could create feelings of disconnect. And for some employees who live in small studio apartments or with roommates, this new work structure may not be ideal. Kleinberg says once stay-at-home orders have been lifted, Traction will problem-solve with employees who may have different needs or living situations to make the arrangement work for them.
Traction’s decision to eliminate a physical workspace coincides with the company’s move before the pandemic away from a typical agency model to more of a consultancy, Kleinberg says. As more brands build in-house creative resources, Traction has found success in consulting brands on how to build experiences with a roster of subject-matter experts. Kleinberg says the agency has brought in six new clients in 2020.
It also aligns with the trend of people in the ad industry leaving urban centers amid COVID-19 to escape to places with more space or to family homes. Kleinberg says he had one employee who approached him to say that they were thinking of leaving San Francisco. Kleinberg says that by working remotely Traction can support such moves, and “if you move out of state, it doesn’t really matter.”
Ad Age’s Lindsay Rittenhouse spoke with 10 agency professionals who moved back in with family members in remote locations since their employers implemented work-from-home policies in March. These agency employees said the decision allows for cost savings, and in some cases, comfort and help with childcare. The question is, will these people return to major hubs in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles once the pandemic wanes? And do they even need to?
But it will be some time before decisions like that will likely need to be made.
Apple said this week it is pushing its retail staff to work remotely, adding that it is unlikely employees will return to its U.S. offices in 2020. Similarly, ViacomCBS said a majority of its employees will not return to its U.S. offices this year. In a memo obtained by Variety, ViacomCBS president and CEO Bob Bakish wrote: “While we were hopeful we’d be able to bring a small number of employees back to U.S. office locations beginning in August, due to recent spikes it’s clear this will not happen. In fact, at this point, we are assuming the majority of employees will not be returning to U.S. offices this year.”
Nearly half of remote workers aren’t comfortable returning to offices before a vaccine is available, according to data from CivicScience.
Schmooze, you lose
Another key element of the ad industry that’s expected to change drastically post-COVID-19 is networking. Digiday took a look at the history of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and if schmoozing on yachts in the South of France is really necessary to do business. The biggest draw of the hoopla is the ability to have face-to-face interaction with people with whom it would likely take months to get a date on the calendar. But amid the push for racial justice and the ad world taking a look internally at its role in perpetuating systemic racism, Cannes certainly feels out of touch. As a result, if Cannes does return next year, there could be less of an emphasis on the opulence and grandeur.
Havas Group is the latest agency to slash headcount in recent weeks, laying off between 150 and 200 people, mainly in the U.S. Keep up with all of the agency layoffs and furloughs here.
Revolving door of CDOs
Chief diversity officers are certainly in the spotlight in recent weeks in the wake of the fight for social justice. But even as companies rush to fill such roles, the history of CDOs is complicated, according to the Wall Street Journal. It is a position that has experienced high turnover, with current and former chief diversity officers opening up about the lack of resources and unrealistic expectations that have caused many to quickly leave these positions.